Radical measure for bird protection: Many residents of the city of Walldorf in the Rhein-Neckar district have to lock up their house cats all summer long with immediate effect. In order to protect the crested lark, which is threatened with extinction, the lower nature conservation authority in the district office has issued a corresponding general decree. According to this, domestic cats in the southern part of the city are no longer allowed outside the door until the end of August 2022 and for the next three years from the beginning of April to the end of August.

For the survival of the species, “the survival of every single young bird” is important, the district said.

The crested lark has the highest endangerment category “Red List 1” (threatened with extinction). There are only 60 territories statewide, in Baden-Württemberg the bird breeds exclusively in the administrative district of Karlsruhe in the area between Karlsruhe and Mannheim. According to the district, there were only three breeding pairs in Walldorf in 2021 – in the southern part of the city, where cats are no longer allowed to leave the house.

So far, it has not been possible to adequately protect the local population in Walldorf with measures such as temporarily stopping construction work. Only a few young birds would then have survived from a successful brood. In addition to free-roaming cats, the district also names magpies, carrion crows, foxes and martens among the reasons – against which traps and hunts, among other things, are said to have been used. In Walldorf, the cats are “not an insignificant factor due to the proximity to the settlement, which is why measures are also necessary with regard to the cats”.

The high density of cats is a danger for the crested lark, also because the birds only look for food on the ground and would only breed there. The crested lark is also threatened in other areas of Germany, such as the Hessian Society for Ornithology and Nature Conservation e.V. 2020 announced on Twitter.

If the general decree is violated, a fine of 500 euros will be imposed. If a cat kills or injures a crested lark, it can mean a fine of up to 50,000 euros. However, in individual cases it can be decided that cats are allowed outside, provided that there is no demonstrable danger for the crested lark.

Alternatively, a cat may be led outside on a leash no longer than two meters long. And anyone who can prove by GPS tracking their cat between September and March that the animal is not in the danger area may also be allowed to let the cat out (for details, see general decree point 6).

It remains very questionable how the arrangement is to be controlled in practice. A district spokesman told the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung that employees of a specialist office should be on the lookout for free-roaming cats. If necessary, the employees could then track where a cat came from, also by reading the ear chip – provided, of course, they get hold of the animal in question at all.

Daniel Lingenhöhl, editor-in-chief of the magazine “Spektrum der Wissenschaft”, refers to a fundamental problem with house cats in the discussion about the events in Walldorf: According to statistics, around 17 million house cats and around two million feral stray cats are said to have lived in Germany in 2021 – millions would do so every year Birds and reptiles fall prey to these cats.

This is not always as problematic as with the crested lark, but sometimes the hunting cats further reduce populations that are already very small. Lingenhöhl refers to studies from Great Britain concerning starlings, dunnocks and song thrushes. In addition, the biodiversity of birds in settlement areas is all the smaller, the more cats live there.